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By Tom Sloper
September 11, 2016

Column #658

American Mah Jongg (NMJL). I'd like to talk about two things that might seem unrelated: space, and order.

A lot of new players have a hard time coming to grips with the importance of space in mah-jongg. Space between exposed sets, space between concealed tiles, and space between symbols on the card.

Space between exposed sets.
When you make multiple exposures atop your rack, it's good etiquette to put space between the exposures, so that it's clear to the other players which tiles are part of which exposures. I understand the desire to obfuscate, to confuse one's opponents, but in this matter, etiquette outweighs strategy. Besides, it's possible to cheat if exposed sets are placed adjacent (a joker might be misread as belonging to a neighboring set, or one might illegally expose a pair).

Spaces among one's concealed tiles.
Have a hard time reading your own tiles? Find it helps you to put spaces between your own sets? Well, there's no rule that says you can't do this, but while you're making it easier on yourself, you're also making it easier for your opponents to defend against you (decreasing your likelihood of winning). A smart opponent can tell a lot from the spacing of your tiles, especially after you've made exposures atop your rack. Get smart. Download a free "mahjong" app. It's not really mah-jongg, it's a tile-matching game. And it's great for helping you be comfortable with seeing tiles without spaces between them.

Spaces between symbols on the card.
A "2016" is not a kong; it's four single tiles. The fact that the symbols on the card are placed in close proximity to one another is a matter of design - it's not an indicator that those four tiles are an exposable grouping. They're not.

Order of exposures.
As you call discards and expose sets, it is standard practice to place them in chronological order (first exposure to the left, then subsequent exposures to the right). You do not have to make it easier for your opponents to decipher your hand by placing them in card order.
But when you declare mah-jongg, you are required to display the sets in card order, with spaces, so that the other players can see what hand you are making, so they will pay you the amount you ask for.

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Need rules for American mah-jongg? Tom Sloper's book, The Red Dragon & The West Wind, is the most comprehensive book about the American game, including official rules not in the outdated official rulebook. AND see FAQ 19 for fine points of the American rules (and commonly misunderstood rules). AND get the official rulebook from the NMJL (see FAQ 3).

Where to order the yearly NMJL card: Read FAQ 7i.

© 2016 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved.